Naked Politics Blogger
2015 saw the greatest movement of people to and around Europe since the end of the Second World War. Increasingly, desperate people have been taking the long and dangerous road to Europe. Some have opted for the overland route via Turkey. Thousands more have put their hands in vampiric people traffickers, promised nothing better than a deadly Mediterranean crossing, and an uncertain future. This plight of these benighted people has drawn much needed political and humanitarian attention from other vulnerable exiles.
Until last year asylum seekers arriving in Europe from Afghanistan constituted the single largest national cohort. Even with the influx of refugees from Syria, Afghan nationals seeking asylum still number in the hundreds of thousands. Although great leaps have been made in establishing peace and stability, Afghanistan is still far from liberal democracy.
These considerations are being ignored by European governments. The recent surge of asylum applications has seen those of Afghan nationals get pushed to the bottom of the pile. The view of many European governments, including that of the UK, is that Afghanistan is safe. This view ignores the extent of the challenges Afghans face. In 2015 more than 11,000 civilians were killed or injured in internal strife; the bloodiest year on record. And nearly 800,000 people remain internally displaced. Those arriving in Europe are fearful, needy, and proud.
In deadly 2015 Europe as whole accepted just 69% of Afghan asylum applications. Britain accepted fewer than 40%. The troubling trend of returning unsuccessful asylum claimants back to Afghanistan is also growing. The Court of Appeal last month overturned the block on returning refugees to Afghanistan, this mean the flights back to Kabul look set to return.
The crisis in Syria, the spectacular spike in asylum applications, and the atrocities in Paris, Brussels and Cologne have rocked even the most welcoming of countries response to refugees. Sweden, long seen as being the most welcoming to those looking for a better life has started closing the door on Afghan refugees. This year the Swedish government declared that seven Afghan provinces are too safe to warrant fleeing. Many Afghans travelling the Western Europe come via Iran or Pakistan. In Britain and across Europe asylum seekers who have taken this route are finding past residency in these countries a barrier to acceptance. We must do more.
What is to be done? The starting point should be an increased acceptance of Afghan migrants. London has a medium sized Afghan community, with the cultural and familial ties that come with that. Britain is a natural destination. The United Kingdom has always prided itself for welcoming those fleeing danger; from the Huguenots in the 17th Century to the Kindertransport in the 1930s, we should be as good as our name and welcome these 21st Century exiles. Next we need to support those who have settled here. Decisions taken now will dictate how Afghan migrants fit into our society for decades to come. Proper integration of first generation migrants now will decrease the likelihood of a repeat of Cologne, and is a bulwark against extremism in the future.
Organisations such as the Afghanistan and Central Asian Association are out there building a vibrant, integrated Anglo-Afghan community. Their work should be supported. Finally we need to extend the support for civil institutions in Afghanistan and help the Afghan people build their country into the light. The departure of allied forces has for many projects marked a reduction of their support and funding. Where government has stepped aside, volunteers must step up. Schemes such as the Kabul, and the Pul-e-Khumri Citizen Advice Service, were set up by the London based ACAA. These projects have proven a popular pillar to building civil society in these areas. Violence, terror, and drug-money have held Afghanistan back for years. Volunteers, charities, and communities will bring it forward.
Improving how we welcome Afghan refugees is just the first, easy step on a long road. We need to build a network. A network that brings together refugees, existing migrants, and the tens of millions of Afghans who don’t want to leave their homes. A network that will build proud, independent, integrated Afghan communities, at home and abroad.